Wilde Oscar
Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, The First Production

Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, The First Production


Edited by Joseph Donohue with Ruth Berggren

21.0 x 27.4 cm   378 pp.  with 158 illus.  1995    Princess Grace Irish Library series (ISSN 0269-2619) volume 10

At its première nearly 125 years ago on Saint Valentine's Day 1895, at the St James's Theatre in King Street, London, Oscar Wilde's `trivial comedy for serious people' The Importance of Being Earnest found great and immediate favour with audiences and critics alike. Yet, by early May, the play had disappeared from the stage, its author convicted of immoral offences and condemned to two years' imprisonment with hard labour. A century later, although Wilde's reputation has long since been restored and his last play for the stage become a timeless classic, much of the meaning and significance the work held for its contemporary audience has been lost or diluted.

The present edition fills this gap in understanding by reconstructing the original 1895 St James's Theatre production. The text itself, derived from theatrical typescripts, including the Lord Chamberlain's licensing copy and Charles Frohman's script for the American premiere, is profusely annotated and illustrated from contemporary sources and presented in a format that balances text and context. An extraordinary range of materials is thus combined to show or explain what the first performance of The Importance of Being Earnest was like in the theatre and how its audiences and critics received it.

Based upon a new, reconstructive method for the study of theatrical performance that aims to set the play securely in its historical and cultural moment, the edition offers a wealth of detail about the staging and acting of the play, including numerous first production and early revival photographs. The reconstructed text itself, remarkably close to the 1899 first edition seen through the press by Wilde himself, recaptures the essential comic vitality of the play that is familiar to audiences throughout the world.

This work will therefore appeal to readers, scholars, theatre practitioners, lovers of the theatre and of the writings of Oscar Wilde.

A Reconstructive Critical Edition of the Text of the First Production at St James's Theatre, London, 1895, Annotated and illustrated from contemporary sources, and edited, with introductory essays on the play and its text by Joseph Donohue with Ruth Berggren. This fully annotated edition of the play, with 158 contemporary illustrations, informs the general reader and scholar alike of all those points that are now likely to be missed, while also giving an overall view of the contemporary cultural and political background. It won the 1995 Barnard Hewitt Award for Outstanding Research in Theatre History.

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